Home / Documents / Originality and Attribution / Part Two

A. Collaboration and Acknowledgment

While the college values intellectual interaction among students as an integral part of the learning process and thus encourages informal exchanges of ideas in study groups and discussions, no formal collaboration should take place in course work at Vassar unless its nature is set forth in advance and in detail by your instructor. In realizing the value of such interactions, you must recognize that collaboration entails certain responsibilities and that in most cases you will be expected to distinguish your individual contributions from those of collaborators or of a study group. This applies to all groups, including those convened electronically. Given the plurality of pedagogical approaches at Vassar, you should also be aware that each discipline sets its own terms for collaboration. Therefore, you should consult with each instructor for guidelines before embarking on a collaborative project.

Arriving at an original perspective on an assignment is an essential part of the educational process. Students who turn to other students’ work for a basic approach to fulfilling an assignment almost certainly short-circuit an essential aspect of learning. After you have developed a thesis or a set of concerns, it may be desirable in rare cases to consult another student’s work for ideas about bibliography or comparative approaches. However, the college’s rules of citation still apply in these cases. Quoting or taking significant ideas from another student’s work must be acknowledged. Not doing so constitutes plagiarism, as much as if the work consulted were a published text.

Scientific inquiry is a communal enterprise, and ideas for experimentation are often the product of group discussion and analysis. At Vassar, laboratory work is often conducted in pairs or in larger groups in order to stimulate critical discussion among peers, to help students analyze issues from diverse points of view, and to allow efficient usage of limited apparatus and supplies. When an idea for an experiment grows out of discussion within a group or even across groups, it is often difficult to discern the exact contribution of each individual. Of course, this state of affairs arises frequently in the work done by professional scientists who collaborate with others on parts or in all phases of their research, and it is best to follow their policy regarding acknowledgment. The policy of professional scientists is to acknowledge explicitly the contribution of others if there is any question whatsoever about whether or not an idea originated in one’s own efforts. Proper acknowledgment may be achieved in numerous ways; which one is most appropriate depends on the nature of the other person’s contribution. If another person helped to conceive the idea behind the experiment but did not participate in designing, conducting, or analyzing the experiment, then acknowledgment may be made through the use of a footnote in which one expresses indebtedness for the particular insight provided. If the particular insight of the other person cannot be specified, then the footnote might read as follows:

The idea for this experiment grew out of discussion with Robert Phillips, to whom I extend my gratitude. Any faults in the experiment reported here or in its interpretation are solely my responsibility

When the contribution of another has been more extensive and shows in all aspects of the project, the policy is to assign authorship to all of the contributors. Papers with multiple authors are very common in the sciences, and the relative importance of each contribution, typically, is indicated by the order of the list of authors; the first author listed is usually the principal contributor to the project. At Vassar, a laboratory instructor may permit or even encourage collaboration on some or all phases of a project, and it is your responsibility to find out from the instructor which parts of a project may be collaborative. Instructors expect each student to write his or her own research report, unless otherwise indicated, and your instructor may not ask you to include your lab partner as coauthor. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to list the names of your lab partners on the title page of your report. By doing so, you acknowledge the contribution of your partners to those aspects of the project (for example, the execution of the experiment) that your instructor specified could be done collaboratively. However, if your paper includes specific phrases or insights of your partner concerning the conception, the analysis, or the interpretation of the experiment, you should acknowledge that specific contribution either in the introduction, or in the acknowledgments section.